Sir James Dyson’s libel claim against Channel 4 has been dismissed after a High Court judge ruled a broadcast that alleged the exploitation of workers at a factory that used to supply goods to his firm did not defame him.
The billionaire sued the broadcaster and ITN, which produces Channel 4 News, over a broadcast of the news programme on 10 February.
At a hearing earlier this month, the court was told the programme reported on legal action brought against the vacuum cleaning giant by several workers at a Malaysian factory, which previously supplied products to Dyson.
The programme is estimated to have been seen by millions of viewers, and featured interviews with workers at ATA Industrial, who said they faced abuse and “inhuman conditions” while at the factory, which manufactured vacuum cleaners and air filters.
Sir James claimed the broadcast falsely said he and companies Dyson Technology and Dyson Limited were complicit in systematic abuse and exploitation of the workers.
However, in a judgment on Monday, Mr Justice Nicklin dismissed Sir James’ libel claim.
The judge had been asked to decide several preliminary issues in the claim, including whether the programme defamed Sir James and the two companies.
Hugh Tomlinson KC, for Sir James and the companies, previously told the court the broadcast had targeted “Dyson meaning Sir James and Dyson companies”.
However, Adam Wolanski KC, for Channel 4 and ITN, had argued that the broadcast did not defame Sir James or refer to the two companies.
Mr Justice Nicklin found that while Sir James was named and pictured in the programme, the entrepreneur was not defamed, and his claim was dismissed.
He said: “The broadcast is simply not about him, and no ordinary reasonable viewer could conclude that he was being in any way criticised. The allegations in the broadcast were clearly targeted, but the targets do not include the first claimant [Sir James].
“Only a reader that was hopelessly naive about the way in which global companies like Dyson operate could consider that a single person, its founder, had day-to-day management responsibility for what happened in a manufacturing plant that supplied its products.”
Mr Justice Nicklin was also asked to decide whether the two companies were referred to in the broadcast.
The judge found the two “candidates” identified by the broadcast would be the company trading with ATA and the company involved in the so-called “PR operation” accused of attempting to hide the alleged abuse.
He added that if Dyson Technology Limited and Dyson Limited were not those companies referred to, they would not be able to continue the libel claim.
“It may be possible for Dyson to put forward a revised claim on behalf of the current corporate claimants, or for claims to be brought by other companies in the Dyson group,” Mr Justice Nicklin said.
He added that he had not reached “any concluded view” on the meaning of the programme in relation to the two companies.
Following the ruling, Dyson said it maintained that the broadcast made “misleading and defamatory allegations” against the companies.
A spokesperson said: “In February 2022 Channel 4 News broadcast a report about a manufacturer in Malaysia called ATA, with whom Dyson terminated its contract in November 2021, in which they also made false and defamatory allegations against Dyson.
“The judgment today is on a number of preliminary technical issues regarding how the case will proceed.
“The judgement concludes that the allegations centre on ATA and are not defamatory in respect of Sir James Dyson. We do, however, maintain that the broadcast made misleading and defamatory allegations against the Dyson companies.”
Picture: Christophe Archambault/ AFP via Getty Images
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